Taking Off With Our Stories

birds treeThere is a saying that in order to fly you must first be willing to fall. Some time ago I saw this illustrated first hand in a row of terrace houses just behind the castle ruins and the busy promenade in Aberystwyth. With the sun bright in the sky and the sounds of children splashing and squealing in the water it was hard to believe that a life and death drama was unfolding in the form of a fledgling crow learning how to fly. I have watched it flapping its wings awkwardly, only to find itself sliding down roofs, bouncing into bushes and eventually sleeping exhausted on the tops of parked cars, while mother and father crow shout their warnings from rooftops and fly down in quick forays to nudge their baby back into action. For a few days I was woken at 4am by harsh cries as the parents fought pitched battles with prowling neighbourhood cats that are always on the lookout for an easy catch. Then one morning all was quiet and when I looked out of my attic window I could see the fledgling crow perched proudly on a rooftop before lifting gracefully into the air, delighted by its new found skill.

There is an art, or rather a knack to flying.  The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. 

Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxybirds 1

Whether it is learning to fly or writing a novel, starting a business or choreographing a dance, the creative process demands risk and good timing, openness to discovery and a lot of hard work. As Stephen King wrote, ‘amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.’ He is right of course but inspiration is important too, the first step in a much longer process that requires a constant and often unconscious shifting back and forth between intuition and intellect, heart and head. Inspiration is the mystery behind the creative process, the spiritual element that is such an important balance to the practical slog of day-to-day work. It is a gift, the spark that sets our creative juices flowing, the moment when an idea descends and we know beyond doubt that we can bring it to fruition if only we could find the courage to step into the abyss and spread our wings. We must hold onto that moment because almost immediately the doubts will surface, niggling away at our confidence so that it can become a battle against ourselves just to begin, let alone to finish.

‘Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.’

Leonardo da Vinci

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To Plan or Not to Plan: Storytelling versus Plotting

acorn

‘I do not plan my fiction any more than I normally plan woodland walks; I follow the path that seems most promising at any given point, not some itinerary decided before entry.’

John Fowles

Recently I’ve found myself immersed in discussions about the pros and cons of planning a novel before embarking on the writing of it. These days there are endless numbers of story planning tools, maps, checklists and even software designed to help us plan our stories. Many of these tools are no doubt very useful and I know a few writers who swear by them. People write in different ways, according to their character and preference. Some write haphazardly with no story in mind, then cut and paste, creating links between sections until a story emerges. Some plan everything before sitting down to actually write a story, mapping out chapters and scenes, character traits and biographies. Others plan very little and simply trust the process. There are dangers and rewards in each of these approaches. Too much knowledge of a story can set the boundaries so tightly its natural growth becomes restricted. Too little and the story might never be found.

‘Of course, the writer can impose control; It’s just a really shitty idea. Writing controlled fiction is called “plotting.” Buckling your seatbelt and letting the story take over, however… that is called “storytelling.” Storytelling is as natural as breathing; plotting is the literary version of artificial respiration.’

Stephen King

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Making Ideas Happen

Moving from being inspired by an idea to actually acting upon it is not always easy but any successful creative entity must be comfortable alternating between these two creative phases: ideation and execution.

Scott Belskymaking ideas happen quote

After a year of struggling to prioritise my writing over other duties, a couple of months ago I bought a time management book called Making Ideas Happen:Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality. I have to admit that I was not expecting it to make much of a difference to my life and I also felt slightly embarrassed by the idea of time management; as if I had anything to manage, as if I was a CEO or some sort of entrepreneur with a busy meeting schedule. And anyway, my days were already so full I couldn’t see where to squeeze anything else in without letting go of something – paid work, exercise time, family time, or even sleep; all of which I treasure. I was desperately tired and was already pushing myself too hard, ending each day with a feeling of failure because I hadn’t achieved everything I set out to do. Each day I wrote a to-do list and each day it grew longer. Write novel was always somewhere on that list but rarely was it crossed out. Once again my writing had been put on the back burner, becoming an increasingly distant dream, and unless we’re lucky enough to make a good living out of our writing, this scenario is most likely a familiar one for many of us. As Philp Roth said, ‘The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.’

So I bought Scott Belsky’s book and sat down with a cup of tea and a good dose of skepticism. Within minutes I was hooked, despite the fact that for the most part, the world Belsky described did not resemble my own. Nevertheless, the ideas were practical and useful and possible to achieve. According to Belsky ideas only happen with organization and prioritization. In a sense this is pretty much stating the obvious but like most of us, I had never thought of the obvious. Belsky successfully tailored the obvious into practical applications that made it possible to begin making changes. I was already familiar with motivational material  – books by other writers that invariably inspired and enthused me temporarily but I had never been able to translate this ‘just do it’ inspiration into just doing it.

In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm… in the real world all rests on perseverance.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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A Way of Being Free

‘The worst realities of our age are manufactured realities. It is therefore our task, as creative participants in the universe, to redream our world. The fact of possessing imagination means that everything can be redreamed. Each reality can have its alternative possibilities. Human beings are blessed with the necessity of transformation.’A Way of Being Free 1

Collections of essays by authors are generally intriguing, providing an insight into the mind of the author, their perspective on the world and of course, their perspective on writing. A Way of Being Free by Booker prize winning novelist, Ben Okri is one of my favourites and one that I refer back to whenever I am in need of soul nourishment. It’s a collection of twelve essays, of which my favourites are ‘The Joys of Storytelling’, ‘The Human Race is Not Yet Free’ and ‘While the World Sleeps. Together, the essays explore inspiration, creativity, religion and the power of storytelling in a beautifully lyrical way.

 ‘Beware of the storytellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art: they could unwittingly help along the psychic destruction of their people.’

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Welcome to the Centre for Story

Sunday afternoons are for relaxation; a walk perhaps, or a book or film, but today I am restless. Through my window I can see the river rising, its muddy water flowing increasingly fast as it tumbles over itself in a race towards the sea. The wind is howling too, the bare branches of the trees lining the riverside are swaying wildly against the grey sky, and the day is punctuated with gusty squalls of rain. Despite all this there are hopeful signs; daffodil bulbs are sending their shoots up and I noticed the first delicate snowdrops this morning.  All day, I’ve considered going for a walk, knowing that once I rug up and step outside, the elements would not seem so unfriendly.  Instead I’ve made hot soup and too many cups of tea, I’ve watched a James Bond movie and the grand final of the Australian Open, and I’ve circled the computer, unsure how to approach writing my first blog post yet knowing I must.

It seems as if only yesterday I was seeing in the New Year, welcoming 2014 with open arms, a hopeful heart and too many resolutions, and yet already January is over. In that time there has been a polar vortex in the States, Australia has experienced the hottest weather on earth and Britain has faced storms and high tides that have pounded the coast and destroyed much of the promenade in Aberystwyth where I am living. It has been a dramatic start to the year.

In the end I have kept to some of my New Year resolutions but not others. I didn’t give up the occasional glass of wine or the pleasure of chocolate bars, but I did start working on my novel once again and this has reminded me of the great joy and satisfaction that comes from the creative process. With the help of my eldest daughter, I have also set up this new website, the Centre for Story. I have wanted to do this for some time now but I had created a narrative around it, a self-limiting story that focused on the impossibilities – lack of time, lack of money and a distinct lack of expertise.  Or perhaps it was simply that the timing was not right.

What I have discovered is that developing a website is rather like writing a novel. It’s a process that takes one step at a time and in which each obstacle and problem is dealt with as it arises. Like a novel, there are blocks and back turns, turning points and questions that arise. There are moments of despair and moments of triumph, and like a novel, there is no certainty about the outcome. And finally, just like a novel, a website requires input from others, suggestions and comments that will help it to grow and evolve.

The Centre for Story is not complete; in fact it is only just beginning and while I have ideas about the direction I would like to take it, I am also aware that, like a novel, at some point, it will acquire a life of its own, following a path that is different from my initial expectations. The Centre is part of a journey, whose beginnings date back many years before the creation of the website and whose end is not yet visible. The blog will host guest bloggers from a range of backgrounds and I will post my own thoughts, as well as reviews of books, websites and articles and links to informative and inspirational talks. For those of you already familiar with Write on the Fringes, this blog will build on and replace that one.  You can also follow the Centre on facebookand twitter.

I hope you will follow the Centre on this meandering path that will celebrate the power of story to promote positive change within each of us and ultimately in the world around us.

 

You are welcome to share articles as long as copyright and contact information are always included.  Thank you for your courtesy.  Rosie Dub

www.centreforstory.com  www.rosiedub.com      Copyright © 2014 Rosie Dub All Rights Reserved